The history of St Helena is fascinating and touches many aspects of world history. Discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, it became a Dutch then a British possession (initially under the East India Company then the Crown). It was a strategically important port of call during the British Empire, until the opening of the Suez Canal and the advent of steamships.
The island’s remote location meant it was used as a place of exile for key prisoners, including some 6,000 Boers, King Dinuzulu, Bahraini princes and, of course, Napoleon, who died on St Helena. The island also played an important role during the abolition of slavery. St Helena’s heritage provides a significant legacy of fortifications, remains, historic buildings, and what has been described as “the quintessential Atlantic port” – Jamestown. In the capital of Jamestown, several buildings are listed because of its historic importance while Main Street has been described as ‘one of the best examples of unspoiled Georgian architecture anywhere in the world.
explore st helena Island's history
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Explore the 1500's
The first sailors to be put ashore arrived on Portuguese vessels. The island’s first known permanent resident was a Portuguese renegade, Fernando Lopez, who had been mutilated on being returned to the Portuguese, by order of Albuquerque, the Governor of Goa. Fernando Lopez preferred being marooned to returning to Portugal in his maimed condition and lived on St Helena from about 1515. By royal command, Lopez returned to Portugal about 1526 and then travelled to Rome, where Pope Clement VII granted him an audience. Lopez returned to St Helena, by his own request, fully pardoned, where he lived until his death in 1545. In 1588 Thomas Cavendish, having captured a Portuguese ship, compelled the pilot to show him where the island was and thus became the first Englishman known to have visited the island. The Dutch formally made claim to St Helena in 1633, although there is no evidence that they ever occupied, colonised or fortified it. By 1651, the Dutch had mainly abandoned the island in favour of their colony founded at the Cape of Good Hope.